Almost three out of four independent UK pharmacies failed to stop under-age consumers attempting to purchase an e-cigarette, according to a new investigation from two UK governmental bodies, Public Health England and the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).
Overall, around 40% of stores failed to check the age of e-cigarette buyers, with 227 successful purchases coming from 574 visits in March of this year. The only places more likely than independent pharmacies to sell e-cigarettes to under-age consumers were independent market stalls (74% of attempts to purchase an e-cigarette in independent pharmacies succeeded, against 80% at market stalls).
“Despite age-of-sale warnings, many retailers are selling e-cigarette products to young people. This is unacceptable,” said Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England.
“This study shows that the government and regulatory authorities need to work closely with retailers in advance of any regulations to ensure that retailers are aware of their legal responsibilities.”
Current UK law does not prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. New powers in the Children and Families Act 2014 allow for the introduction of a ban on selling e-cigarettes to under-18s. But such regulations do not exist yet and are subject to future consultation; this report was commissioned by Public Health England to assist this work.
However, e-cigarette manufacturers often abide by a voluntary code to prohibit sales to under-18s. Indeed, 80% of the products sold in the study carried warnings that they were not intended for use by under-18s.
Still, despite the concern over access, Public Health England does not think that e-cigarettes are likely to be a gateway to tobacco use in young consumers.
What This Means: Although some traders may be deliberately playing it close to the edge, knowing that sale of e-cigarettes to minors is not currently a crime, most of the 227 sales to under-age consumers are likely a result of ignorance – either wilful or unintended.
In the meantime, the TSI has some work to do educating retailers ahead of any legislation prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s. Online sales are also going to have to be tested and standards devised.
– Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff
Photo: Paresh Gajria